The Singles Collection 2001-2011 is a mis-named, lazy compilation that neither offers a complete picture of Gorillaz as a (cartoon) band, nor makes the sorts of choices that will endear it to its audience rather than alienate it from that audience. That it remains an enjoyable listen from start to finish is testament to the ability of Damon Albarn and his collaborators to craft an interesting pop song, seemingly on demand.
Tracklist-wise, it may as well have been constructed by Wikipedia, its tracklist conforming almost exactly to the list of singles, in order, listed on the Gorillaz discography wiki page. Even little-known singles such as “Doncamatic” and “El Mañana” are here, as they are indeed singles that were released by the band at some point; after all, if only the singles that ended up radio hits were on the album, it would be a very short album. Still, it is in the inconsistencies that most of the head-scratching happens, so let’s go ahead and take a look at the tracklist of The Singles Collection 2001-2011 next to the Wikipedia version of Gorillaz’ singles history.
The first obvious change is actually a good one: Rather than stick “Clint Eastwood” at the front of the disc, which would be the easy thing to do given that it was most peoples’ introduction to the band. “Tomorrow Comes Today” actually opens the album, a melancholy start that offers a far more accurate picture of Gorillaz’ personality and sound than the Del-fronted “Clint Eastwood”. “Tomorrow Comes Today” is vague but knowing, a song that could be about the emotional disconnect that can accompany an always-on mentality, or perhaps an indictment of the modern consumer’s willingness to pay to be lazy. Mostly, it’s a loping beat, disconnected vocals, and an overall feeling of discontent—a combination that meshes well with the feeling a listener gets when listening to a full Gorillaz album. When the singles that have come from Gorillaz’ albums are songs like “Clint Eastwood”, “Feel Good, Inc.”, “19-2000” and “Superfast Jellyfish”, it almost makes sense that they’re a “cartoon band”—technicolor and slapstick make sense—so it’s nice to see the satire and discontent that inspired the Albarn and Hewlett in the first place lead off the album.
From there, however, things get less inspired.
Maybe it’s understandable that “Lil’ Dub Chefin”, the Spacemonkeyz’ take on the debut album’s “M1A1”, didn’t make it, because it’s not strictly a Gorillaz song. Still, it’s another side of Gorillaz, an interesting side of Gorillaz, and the presence of other remixes means that whoever put the compilation together wasn’t too worried about issues of purity.
“Rhinestone Eyes” was left off entirely, presumably because it was “cancelled” (thanks again, Wikipedia!) in favor of non-album single “Doncamatic”—which, admittedly, is nice to have on an album-length release—but it did manage some airplay, and the brilliant Plastic Beach feels woefully underrepresented without it. Also ignored: Anything at all from The Fall, since despite the title’s claim of “2001-2011, it seems we’re all just going to pretend The Fall never happened.
The Singles Collection then ends with two remixes of tracks from the debut: the Soulchild mix of “19-2000”, which actually does make sense since it’s the version of the track that kept Gorillaz at the forefront of MTV post-“Clint Eastwood”, and the “Ed Case/Sweetie Irie Refix” version of “Clint Eastwood”, which is only really here to plant “Clint Eastwood” in our heads one more time.
And, as an aside, why, why, why use a version of “Stylo” that edits out Mos Def’s first appearance? He bookends the song so well that it seems incomplete without him showing up at the beginning as well as the end.
There is certainly an audience for this. People who hear and enjoy Gorillaz on the radio aren’t necessarily ready to accept them as the most cutting sort of satire. On the radio, they are a cartoon, a band whose sound matches the largely appealing, colorful personas offered by the band’s videos and cover art. Even Gorillaz fans would be lying if they said they wouldn’t enjoy the tracklist as is. Still, what few decisions were actually made in compiling this disc beyond plucking the full stash of singles in chronological order were at best questionable, and at worst utterly frustrating. An album like this should exist, a complete picture of the Gorillaz’ story so far. This isn’t it.